High-Protein Diets Could Help Prevent Post-Diet Weight Regain

Researchers have discovered eating a high-protein diet after a restrictive diet could help prevent weight regain by supressing the presence of gut bacteria responsible for fat absorption.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Dec. 16, 2022) — Eating a high-protein diet may help prevent weight regain after dieting, say researchers from China in a paper published in Nature Metabolism.

Dieting, or more specifically dietary restrictions, are some of the most common methods of losing weight and fat mass. However, although short-term weight loss can be achieved by simply eating fewer fatty foods and monitoring caloric intake, long-term weight maintenance is much more difficult to attain. In many cases of weight loss due to restrictive food intake, participants will notice a rapid weight rebound after returning to their previous dietary habits.

A team of researchers led by Professor Zhai Qiwei from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China have discovered that an increase of a specific bacterial strain enhances absorption of lipids in the gut, leading to rapid accumulation of fat in mice.

As part of the study, lab mice were put on a dieting protocol that mimics restrictive caloric intake or intermittent fasting for three to six days and weighed to record their initial mass. Researchers then used 10 dieting protocols to investigate the effects of post-diet “refeeding” on fat mass in mice. In both the restrictive diet and the subsequent refeed, the same feed was used. The mice were weighed once again and their fat mass accumulation was subsequently measured.

Data from this experiment showed that the mice were quick to regain fat mass after post-diet refeeding. In fact, for mice who were on a restrictive diet for three days prior to the refeed, their fat mass accumulation was the fastest.

The researchers looked at whether the mice’s fat absorption in the gut and subsequent fat metabolism were affected during the restrictive diet phase. A fat absorption and lipid metabolism assay were conducted on mice on the restrictive diet.

Results from these assays showed there was an increase in fat absorption in the gut from finding high amounts of lipids in fecal matter. Further analysis revealed that there was a decrease in total lipid oxidation and an increase in white adipose storage. In short, less fat is being broken down while more fat is being stored in the body, leading to an increase in fat mass accumulation after restrictive dieting.

To determine any potential dietary interventions that could help reduce this increase in fat absorption and storage, the researchers fed mice either a high-protein diet, low-protein diet or normal-protein diet during the post-dieting phase.

Results showed that the high-protein diet was able to prevent quick mass fat accumulation in the mice compared to the low-protein and normal-protein diets. The researchers took a deeper look at the mice’s gut microbiome, to determine if there were any changes in the gut microbiome during both the restrictive diet phase and the high-protein refeeding phase.

The researchers discovered that a strain of bacteria called Lactobacillus was highly abundant in the gut of mice during a restrictive dieting phase and during refeeding with a normal-protein diet. The abundance of Lactobacillus saw a near 50 percent decrease during a high-protein diet refeed.

This showed that the presence of Lactobacillus in the gut along with a high-protein diet after a restrictive diet can affect fat mass accumulation and subsequent weight gain. The researchers believe that taking specific post-dieting feeding habits, such as eating a high-protein diet, is “likely an applicable strategy that can alleviate the detrimental effecting of terminating dieting.”

Source: Chinese Academy of Science; Photo ­­­­­Unsplash

The article can be found at Zhong et al., (2022) High-protein diet prevents fat mass increase after dieting by counteracting Lactobacillus-enhanced lipid absorption.

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